India will begin sending 50,000 tons of wheat to Afghanistan through Pakistan next week, in rare cooperation between the two rival nations to help millions of Afghans facing severe food shortages.
Islamabad agreed in November to New Delhi’s request to allow the supply of wheat through its territory, and the two sides have now sorted out the modalities of the transportation, Pakistani officials confirmed Monday.
The arrangement calls for Afghan trucks to collect the grain from India and take the consignment through Pakistan’s Wagha border to Afghanistan’s eastern city of Jalalabad.
Officials said the first convoy of trucks loaded with wheat is scheduled to depart the Indian border town of Attari on February 22 en route to the Afghan city via the northwestern Pakistani border crossing of Torkham.
Indian officials said the humanitarian assistance will be handed over to the United Nations World Food Program in Jalalabad for distribution to Afghan families under a “landmark” agreement the world body signed with New Delhi on Friday.
“The task before us is enormous, and every bit counts. India’s commitment for 50,000 metric tons is extremely important, especially in times of the pandemic, and we remain hopeful that the Indian government will extend its generosity for even more grain stocks when possible,” Bishow Parajuli, WFP’s India country director, told The Hindu newspaper.
Pakistan closed the land route for all bilateral trade with India and downgraded an already fragile bilateral relationship in August 2019 to protest New Delhi’s decision to end the semi-autonomous status for the Indian-ruled part of the disputed Kashmir region.
Bilateral tensions have since deteriorated and Islamabad, which controls the rest of the Himalayan territory, is demanding New Delhi restore Kashmir’s status before official contacts can resume.
Islamabad says it is opening the land route only as an exception to deal with the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, where U.N. officials estimate around 24 million people are in need of urgent relief aid, with several million of them a step away from famine.
India had pledged in October last year to supply 50,000 tons of wheat to Afghanistan; however, extended talks with Pakistan over modalities of the transportation, elections in Indian Punjab and several challenges involving the use of a large number of trucks reportedly delayed the shipment.